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George A. Klaeren

Greenleaf Visiting Library Scholar

PhD Student
University of Kansas

Photo: George   Klaeren

George A. Klaeren received a Greenleaf Visiting Library Scholar award in Spring 2015 to support research on 'Our Holy System': Consilience and the Unity of Knowledge in the Mexican Counter-Enlightenment, 1680-1815.’ At the time of the award, Klaeren was a doctoral student in the Department of History at the University of Kansas.

Klaeren is a Sias Fellow at the Hall Center for the Humanities at the University of Kansas, where he studies the intellectual history of the early modern Spanish empire.  His research focuses on the history of knowledge and the intersection of religion, science, and magic, especially during the eighteenth century.  Klaeren's dissertation, “Encountering the Enlightenment: Science, Religion, and Catholic Epistemologies across the Spanish Atlantic, 1680-1815,” examined the theological and scientific writings of intellectuals in eighteenth-century Spain to assess the ways in which the “New Philosophy” and “New Sciences” associated with Enlightenment thought were received, adapted, and challenged by Catholic thinkers across the Spanish Atlantic, particularly emphasizing the conservative epistemology of the Spanish Counter-Enlightenment.

Title of Research :  'Our Holy System': Consilience and the Unity of Knowledge in the Mexican Counter-Enlightenment, 1680-1815.’

While at UNM, he addressed how throughout the eighteenth century drastic changes were occurring in the intellectual climate of New Spain. Commonly referred to collectively as the "new philosophy" or the "new science," these new methods of thought impacted the sphere of the religious and intellectual thinkers of the Spanish empire on both sides of the Atlantic. To many thinkers and writers, these changes were not only direct challenges to established certainties, but represented calls for radical methodologies that would lead to materialism, atheism, and the ultimate ruin of Catholic society. This presentation assesses the reactionary position of many Mexican intellectuals to an "enlightenment epistemology," particularly in response to ilustrado publications during the mid-eighteenth century. Often labeled antiilustrados (anti-enlightened) or traditionalista/casticista (traditionalist), these reactionary thinkers have been portrayed as dogmatic, irrational, and one-dimensional figures. Emphasizing the theme of consilience, or the unity of knowledge, this research demonstrates why these traditionalistas argued against a "Catholic Enlightenment" of eighteenth-century Spanish Empire, what their specific objections were, and how these objections were rationalized and seen as legitimate arguments at the time. It demonstrates how criollo, Mexican religious intellectuals contested for epistemological hegemony in the mid-eighteenth century, proposing alternative, and at times, mutually exclusive, systems for understanding and the pursuit of truth.